I was graded unfairly in a communication class. I participated more than some students yet the professor said she couldn't remember me speaking out in class. I asked her if she has any record on that and she said it would be hard for her to record if everyone speaks out

Some of the students who were less active were given better marks than those who were more active, it was inconsistent. There were 23 students in the class and 13 classes in total. By the end of the class, she could not even remember the names and faces of each and everyone. How should I approach this?

  • 2
    One thing you haven't mentioned is what portion of your overall grade this participation grade counted for. If it counted for say, 20% of your overall grade, this would be a serious issue. If it's a much smaller portion, the inconsistency may not be quite as big a problem.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 23:14
  • Yes, 20% of the total grade. I was downgraded from an A+ to a B+. It is just so digusting
    – StudentX
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 23:27
  • 4
    That does not answer your question but quantity is not the same as quality: a student that sparsely makes very interesting comments may receive a better grade than one that just say the first thing coming to its mind, correct or wrong.
    – Taladris
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 0:56
  • 1
    @Taladris Without a proper record, how could she remember who said what?
    – StudentX
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 2:35
  • 2
    Short answer: Yes, the professor can do this. Even though it admittedly sounds totally capricious and unfair. Austin has a great counter-strategy below. Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 2:53

3 Answers 3


Check if your school has a grade appeal process.

Many schools in the US have one. It will bring in some other administrators (e.g., chair of the department or dean) to review your argument and assess the professor's rationale for giving you the grade.

You might have a good chance with this since she has no written justification for your grade or other student's grades and relies only on her memory. Additionally, if you can remember what you spoke about during the class on specific days (and the students who spoke immediately before/after you), you might want to go ahead and write that down so that you can bring it up with your appeal.

  • She used a certain mark based on the frequency a student spoke out in class, for example, 5% if you only spoke out in half of the classes, 10% for speaking out in 3/4 of the classes etc. I mean if she has difficulty in remembering faces and names, how could she be possibly be accurate and objective about the marking?
    – StudentX
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 22:52
  • @StudentX Exactly. Bring that up in in your appeal argument! Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 22:52
  • 6
    @StudentX: This is tangential to the case at hand, but I cannot help but think that counting how often someone said anything is a truly nonsensical way to measure participation. Maybe it is suitable for measuring whether students are indeed awake at some point during class, but unless the impression of the content of what was said goes into the mark (and maybe putting it into relation with the general personality of the student), this leaves a really bad taste of we-measure-something-because-we-can-not-because-the-measured-value-is-helpful. Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 23:13
  • She readjust the grade so because the chair of department asked her to because she gave everyone very high mark (some assignment she gave everyone a full mark), so that there will a normal distribution in the class. 40% of the final grade was from attendance/participation which I think is ridiculous. How would that reflect on our works?
    – StudentX
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 23:19
  • 3
    Great answer. Best path forward is for @StudentX to stop complaining here and start preparing for this appeals process (e.g., investigating how to file it at their school). Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 2:52

You are right, a mere statement like I couldn't remember you speaking out in class is not a solid remark to make by a professor in this particular case. But your statement I participated more than some students have no objective basis too.

First check your institute policy on exam evaluations. In general, your institute will less likely to allow a re examination based on a student response which is individualistic at the same time based on subjective grounds. Your professor's word is probably going to be final.

But, if the bulk of the students feel the same way that marking is unfair, then things are different. If that is the case, the best way is to bring this issue up together to a competent authority.

  • 1
    But your statement "I participated more than some students too" have no objective basis. So what? It doesn't need to have an objective basis. It is not the student's job to assess accurately how much he/she participated compared to others. The student can make any claim he/she feels is reasonable to make based on his/her recollections (as long as it is made honestly and in good faith), and it is the professor's job to be in the position to refute it if it's incorrect.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 23:20
  • 4
    @DanRomik I absolutely agree with you. The problem here is that if the student wish to submit a complaint, the judging panel (if any) demands some real evidence. If there are none, IMO professor's decision stands final. Now can such a statement by a student can be given any value? Yes in a democratic setup. But if there is going to be an investigation, objectivity triumphs. In this particular case, the professor will be granted benefit of doubt. Note, the situation is different when many students felt the same way as OP.
    – Sathyam
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 23:26
  • 1
    I don't know if the professor would be given the benefit of the doubt. that would allow too much room for open discrimination, especially when her grading is entirely based on memory. Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 2:11

There are several issues to address in this story.

1. Is the grading really based on what the instructor remembers?

Remembering who contributed during the lectures is like remembering who answered the questions right in the midterm. The latter seems foolish since there is a hard proof that you have attended the midterm, written down the answers and there is an answer sheet. However, the former can also be kept as a document (for instance, putting a mark near the student's name on the attendance sheet), and can be checked later on just as a midterm exam paper.

In this case, it is unfortunately your fault not to keep track of participation points. You should have appealed against the method your instructor follows from the beginning and made sure that every contribution you have made is recorded.

2. Your instructor might be giving marks on the worthiness of the comment made

Not every comment during the lecture is a contribution. For instance, in a math class, an instructor tells that two plus two is equal to four. A student who says "Oh, than two plus three equals to five!" might not have made any contribution, but a student asks "Why is two plus two is equal to two times two?" might have asked a good question that improves the course flow.

3. You might think that the other students were inactive but they were actually more active than you

Inline with the second issue, some of the students -- who got more participation marks -- might have asked really interesting questions for the sake of the course subject, but you might have missed them.

4. There are witnesses

If you truly believe that you desire the participation grade, then you should talk to the other students that also think just as you. A bunch of them will probably be at your side when you appeal to the grading.

5. What is the university policy?

Remember that an instructor can always tear apart a midterm paper with the attendance list, and claim that the student has never attended the midterm, and the attendance sheet is lost. Is there any rule against this situation? If so, then there should be a rule against "remembering the contributors".

What I am trying to point out that reading a story subjectively would be misleading. Since it is you who takes a low grade, you as well might be over-subjective about the issue. If you are not a senior student, then you can always take the course for improvement and take a lesson out of this incident.

  • 1. I trusted in my instructor, trusted that she would do the right and just thing. By the way, the participation marking came up only after she was instructed to readjust the grade because she gave everyone a full mark in most of the assignments and also the participation initially
    – StudentX
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 2:37
  • 2. She did not have a proper record for comments and contributions made by her students, so how could she be so explicitly mark everyone of their participation. What more remembering the answers given by the students in the class.
    – StudentX
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 2:38
  • 3. Unless I was delusional during the whole class, I am pretty sure I participated more than most students.
    – StudentX
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 2:39
  • 4. Yes, there is a fellow classmate who is willing to testify
    – StudentX
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 2:39
  • 4
    "I am not sure than if a prestiged university would allow its instructors to be the kings and queens" Oh, trust me...**especially** a prestigious university.
    – Corvus
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 2:53

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